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The hon. Member for Nottingham, North talked about the need to connect to educational institutions, hospitals, and so on, and I fully accept that. I would be the first to encourage the roll-out of the super-highway connections to schools, hospitals and so on, but it is already happening. As the hon. Gentleman mentioned, the Cable Communications Association is committed--as, incidentally, are BT and Mercury as a result of the pressure that we have put on them to connect up. I announced that information to the Select Committee on Trade and Industry well before the hon. Gentleman caught up with it and made a subsequent announcement.
It is important to recognise that the policies that we have encouraged to liberalise the industry have encouraged massive private investment. The hon. Gentleman must give due credit to the fact that the policies that we have pursued have released exactly the sort of level of investment--the cable industry has invested £10 million this decade and £2 billion this year, BT is investing more than £2 billion this year and several other network providers are also investing money--which means that Britain is now getting the sort of connections that are essential and which are the pre-condition for rolling out into the institutions. One cannot simply envisage connections to institutions unless there is proper commercial use of the whole super-highway.
The hon. Gentleman then talked about applications. The one purpose that we have had in Government in recent months is to try to bring the industry together in the multi-media industry advisory group, the formation of which I announced in the Command Paper in November.
Column 248That group is now working extremely hard on proper applications, which industry can assist Government in developing. The big point is that many of the companies which are active in the multi- media industry, previously very diverse and which often did not talk to one another, are now looking at ways in which they can co-operate to bring multi-media to users such as schools, hospitals, and so on, as well as to people in their private homes. One of the problems at the moment is that the super-highway is capable of carrying a great deal more capacity than there are current commercial applications for use of it.
One of the areas in which I think that, as a result of the G7 summit, we have most prospect for encouraging British industry is to use the UK, in its fairly advanced state in the super-highway, to act as a test bed for the development of applications which may be used in the rest of Europe as Europe rolls out its own liberalisation programme. We managed to persuade other nations in the Telecoms Council in November to liberalise infrastructure and voice telephony by 1 January 1998. That provides a terrific opportunity for British industry to compete in those markets.
The hon. Gentleman clearly lacks a very great deal of information so I invite him to ask me further questions through the Internet or in the House. My e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org. I was the first Minister to be on e-mail and I am delighted so to be. Plenty of my Conservative colleagues, including my hon. Friend the Member for Dover (Mr. Shaw), have pioneered a great deal of Internet use as sitting Members of Parliament and my hon. Friend the Member for Keighley (Mr. Waller) has done a great job in trying to link up Parliament.
Things are happening in this country and we ought to give credit to the industry which is doing it. The Government are working very closely with industry to develop this. We have nothing to hide our head in shame about-- the very opposite. The proof of the pudding is that the G7 is now adopting British policies, which the hon. Gentleman's party has frequently contested. I have not heard the Labour party consistently supporting liberalisation of telecoms since the early 1980s for a start. Without liberalisation, one cannot simply have the development of the super- highway. A combination of low costs of telephone communications, which is a result of the liberalisation and now accepted by all the rest of the G7 countries and by all the rest of the European Union, with ever-increasing computing power, is how the super-highway has developed.
We have a proud record and one which I believe the country will benefit from in competition with other countries. British industry will develop competitively and help our export position. There is no doubt that the people of this country, wherever they live, will find that the super- highway is available to them and the applications which will be commercially attractive to them will be available in our schools, hospitals, homes and businesses.
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for giving me a chance to explain to him how far advanced we are with the information super-highway and I am glad that he is trying to catch up. Question put and agreed to.
Adjourned accordingly at sixteen minutes to Eleven o'clock.
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